May 03


What could you learn from ‘What you really need to lead’ by Robert Kaplan (2015, 179 pages)

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” – Harry Trueman

There is a lot of evidence to support Trueman’s opinion that reading increases your leadership ability and potential (see this HBR article).  However, with so much material available, it is difficult to know where to start.

In ‘What you need to Lead’ Robert Kaplan succinctly lays out where a leader adds value.  Kaplan provides good actionable advice on where leaders should focus their efforts, how leaders should build relationships with others, and what are the fundamental tenants of a productive leader/follower relationship.

Briefly, leaders adds value by focusing on:

  1. Vision – how we add value in a distinctive way
  2. Priorities – what are our explicit choices and tradeoffs
  3. Alignment – how do we all pull in the same direction

A leader can develop relationships with others through:

  1. Self-disclosure
  2. Inquiry
  3. Seeking advice

At its most productive, the leader/follower relationship is based on:

  1. Mutual understanding
  2. Mutual trust
  3. Mutual respect

‘What you really need to Lead’ is an exceptional book, and is currently the first book I advise people to read on leadership.  The book succinctly summarises much of the standard advice for leaders (know thyself, focus on adding value and develop an ownership mindset), but what makes this book special is that Kaplan combines standard leadership advice with simple, usable frameworks that are helpful to leaders at all levels.

Amazon link – What You Really Need to Lead

Link to Robert Kaplan website